Baltimore Ponders Muni Fiber Network

Another community has announced that with or without Google, it is going to build a proper broadband network. Baltimore is the latest to realize they cannot just wait for others to build the network they need.

"We can't sit here and wait for a gift from Google to fall on us from the sky," said Tom Loveland, whom Rawlings-Blake has appointed the city's volunteer Google czar. "This is our future we're talking about here. Those of us involved in the conversation have seen what other cities have already accomplished. These folks managed to get themselves wired without Google. If they can do it, we can do it, too."

Bingo.

Apparently, lots of Baltimore folks are interested in the idea. Some 200 people turned out for this discussion and the group has a lively online discussion group as well as a site detail the community support for the project.

The Mayor has created a panel to study the manner. They have already turned to ask Mayor Durel of Lafayette, always a good start. Another place panels like this can start is the still-relevant report by a Task Force in St. Paul.

According the article in the Sun, an FCC staffer also presented to the group of 200:

At the symposium, John Horrigan, consumer research director at the FCC, said studies have shown that the technological availability of basic broadband service is not the main problem because 95 percent of Americans have the technical means to access it. Rather, nearly a third of Americans are choosing not to use broadband, citing high costs or a lack of digital literacy or computer skills.

These are the sort of statements that infuriate me because they incorporate so many important caveats. 95% of Americans may have access to something faster than dial-up. But probably not given how much the telcos overestimate the reach of their DSL.

Though Horrigan notes the high costs, we know very little about what these costs are. If someone could buy a connection only slightly faster than dial-up at a cost of 3x dial-up, they are probably smart to stick with dial-up. It tells us nothing of what they would do with a real choice.

Community broadband networks encourage competition, increasing investment and lowering prices for the whole community; but the private sector has refused to provide true competition in Baltimore.

The Baltimore digital divide undoubtedly has many causes. But with the community surrounded by a technologically more advanced network (FiOS), solving those problem will only become harder as the City is less attractive to residents and businesses. Baltimore should look at the benefits of building its own network and checking out how other communities have partnered with non-profits to expand computer ownership and literacy skills as part of a larger strategy to revitalize the city. Oh yeah, they already are.

(Image: Baltimore harbour, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from davies's photostream)